June 6, 2012— -- Given the choice, most school districts in America are saying "no" to lean finely textured beef, more commonly known as "pink slime."
The United States Department of Agriculture said that only three states participating in the National School Lunch Program (Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota) have chosen to order ground beef that may contain LFTB.
The beef filler was at the center of a social media firestorm earlier this year prompting public outcry for better labeling practices and petitions to remove the product completely from schools. The USDA, which runs the school lunch program, reacted by allowing school districts to make their own choices about whether to order pre-formed beef patties that may contain LFTB or bulk beef without the controversial filler.
LFTB is a filler made of fatty bits of beef that are then heated and treated with ammonia to kill bacteria. The USDA maintains that the product is safe to eat and reduces the overall fat content of beef products.
School districts filed their orders for the 2012-2013 school year and only the three states where the principal maker of LFTB, Beef Products Inc., had factories chose the so-called pink slime product.
"Given some of the alarmist reporting and blogging that consumers have seen and read about lean finely textured beef, it's not surprising, though still distressing, to see school districts make the choices they have," said Janet Riley, senior vice president of public affairs at the American Meat Institute, in a statement to ABC News.
Products containing LFTB are also more affordable to school districts, estimated to cost 3 percent less than beef not containing the filler which "translates into millions of dollars nationwide," said Riley.
"These decisions unnecessarily place further pressure on school budgets that are already struggling to fund teacher salaries and the like," she added.
As of May 18, states had requested more than 20 million pounds of the bulk beef not containing LFTB. Orders for beef that may contain the filler totaled about 1 million pounds. The USDA purchases about 60 percent of the ground beef used by U.S. school districts.
Fast food chains were the first to reject LFTB in its burgers, McDonald's, Burger King and Taco Bell all dropped it after initial media reports. Wendy's eventually took out ads in major newspapers saying it never used "pink slime." Later, grocery store chains, including Whole Foods, Publix and Costco would tell ABC News they have never sold products containing LFTB. Grocery giant Safeway told ABC News in March they will no longer be carrying beef products containing LFTB. Others followed, and BPI has shut all but one of its factories.
Under pressure from the public for better labeling practices, the USDA also announced in April that they will approve requests from ground beef producers to voluntarily label their products containing LFTB. Labels could read: "Contains Lean Finely Textured Beef" or "Contains Lean Beef Derived from Beef Trimmings."